Years after Janet Jackson’s infamous wardrobe malfunction during the 2004 Super Bowl halftime performance, CBS chairman and CEO Les Moonves harbored a vendetta against Jackson and sought to block her career, according to a new report from the Huffington Post. Anonymous sources, who said they fear Moonves’s reputation for long-term grudges, told reporter Yashar Ali that the CBS chief “was convinced it wasn’t a malfunction, but rather an intentional bid to stir up controversy.”
Jackson’s duet partner Justin Timberlake apparently earned his way back into Moonves’s good graces after “tearfully” apologizing—and then apologizing again on stage at the CBS-produced Grammy Awards just one week later. But Moonves was reportedly “furious” he didn’t receive a similar apology from Jackson and dis-invited her from that year’s Grammys, where she’d been scheduled to deliver a tribute.
The discrepancy in responses to Jackson and Timberlake has been widely remarked over the years: Although the halftime performance was a joint act, and although it was Timberlake who actually ripped off a piece of Jackson’s bustier, it was Jackson who seemed to bear the brunt of public criticism and commercial fallout. While Timberlake took home Grammys, CBS, MTV, and other Viacom properties pulled Jackson’s music and videos off the air. This year, Timberlake—and only Timberlake—was invited back to the Super Bowl for another halftime show. Nearly 15 years later, it seemed Jackson still wouldn’t be allowed to move past the embarrassment.
Moonves’s grudge apparently died hard. According to the new report, he reacted with anger even years later, after discovering that Jackson had signed a book deal with CBS subsidiary Simon & Schuster. Her memoir, True You: A Journey to Finding and Loving Yourself, was published in 2011.
Another complicating factor, and one possible reason this throwback drama is surfacing now: Moonves faces accusations of sexual harassment and is under intense public pressure following Ronan Farrow’s recent New Yorker report. CBS has thus far declined to take action against its CEO, who remains on the job. In an earlier statement responding to the allegations, Moonves wrote, “I recognize that there were times decades ago when I may have made some women uncomfortable by making advances. Those were mistakes, and I regret them immensely. … I have never misused my position to harm or hinder anyone’s career.”